Objectives: To explore the perceived impact among a group of Scottish 16- and 17-year-old school leavers of the recent increase in age of sale of cigarettes (1 October 2007) from 16 to 18 years on their ability to purchase and access cigarettes.
Study design: Qualitative interviews with friendship pairs.
Methods: Twelve paired qualitative interviews conducted in June 2008. Participants were 16- and 17-year-old early school leavers undertaking a work skills programme in Lothian who smoked at least one cigarette per week. Data were analysed thematically.
Results: The increase in the age of sale affected participants' perceived ability to purchase cigarettes to differing extents. Three groups were identified: those who were unable to purchase cigarettes either before or after the change in the law, those who could purchase cigarettes before the change in the law but who found it very difficult to do so afterwards, and those who were relatively unaffected as they could purchase cigarettes both before and after the age was raised to 18 years, mostly from small corner shops. Smoking was embedded in participants' social lives and networks. Thus, there was only a limited impact upon their reported ability to access cigarettes due to the availability of alternative social sources of cigarettes from family, friends and others.
Conclusions: This exploratory study raises questions about the nature and extent of the impact of raising the age of sale on young smokers' ability to purchase and access cigarettes. The importance of alternative social sources of cigarettes highlights the need for further research to investigate whether the change in legislation had less of an impact on more disadvantaged adolescent smokers, as they are likely to have greater access to alternative sources from their family, friends and community.